In a letter to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, CSX executive David Dech says it would be “virtually impossible” for a restored Gulf Coast passenger rail service to comply with current federal standards.
Before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited line provided passenger rail service between New Orleans and Orlando, mostly using CSX-owned tracks. With many stations, trestles, and other rail infrastructure damaged by the storm, service east of New Orleans was suspended, and it hasn’t come back.
Since 2015, however, the Federal Railroad Administration, Southern Rail Commission, and the congressionally-established Gulf Coast Rail Service Working Group have been working to determine whether or not it’s feasible to restore passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast. Those efforts included a test run back in 2016, when an Amtrak train pulled into Gulf Coast stations for the first time in more than a decade.
The working group is due to submit a report to Congress by September, but CSX says that there are “overwhelming new legal requirements standing in the way” of restoring the rail service.
In its last year of operation, the Sunset Limited service east of New Orleans ran on time just 7 percent of the time. Now, CSX argues, new federal rules require passenger train service to run on time at least 80 percent of the time, a standard which just isn’t feasible on the Gulf Coast.
“Among the barriers to compliance, there are 17 drawbridges along the route where essential maritime traffic gets priority over trains,” Dech wrote. “As a result, it is virtually impossible to design a service that would reliably meet customer expectations or comply with the law. No plan proposed by the Gulf Coast Working Group would come close to the 80 percent on-time performance requirement.”
CSX also says that the working group has failed to consider the cost of necessary safety upgrades, instead opting to seek a waiver from federal officials.
“CSX is proud to support safe, reliable passenger rail transportation,” the letter concluded. “We also must keep faith with the traveling public, comply with the law and preserve our ability to serve area businesses by moving freight safely and reliably. Two years of shared and committed study, including ideas that involve dramatic spending commitments, still have not yielded a single proposal that would come close to addressing these issues.”
For CSX’s full letter to the editor, visit NOLA.com.